Cancer Lesson #81: I Am Hope.

Cancer Lesson #81: I am hope.

When I did the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life a few weeks ago, I didn’t introduce myself with the rest of the survivors. This year, it felt a little too self-congratulatory, celebrating a result over which I had minimal control.

My mind began to shift, however, when the “Honorary Survivors” spoke. The “Junior Honorary Survivor,” who was about fourteen, talked about how she understands there are some things you can change and some you can’t. She said how important it was to focus on what we can do, instead of worrying about what we can’t, which I thought was very wise for one so young.

The adult spokesperson was a theirteen-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. This is almost a miracle, and that fact alone made me begin to think a little differently. (The Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research quotes the American Cancer Society as giving an average five-year survival rate of about 6%.)

My perspective began to change that day, but the lightbulb moment came when I was folding a load of laundry earlier this week.

I am hope. I am hope. I am hope. FullSizeRender-2
On t-shirt after t-shirt, the message stared up at me. IMG_0347

I am hope.

Not because I did anything special.  And certainly not because I deserve it more than those who are gone. But just as my friends’ deaths were beyond my control,  I also don’t want to change the fact that I’m still here.

It’s time to focus on what I can control , to consider what I can try to be for others.

Hope.
A beam of light to those who are beginning treatment.
A voice of — if not reason — then at least perspective on what the future might look like.

I am the hope, that five years after surgery and chemo, you can still ride a bike, play soccer as badly as you did before, enjoy your family and loved ones.

I am the hope that, like me, you might take a little extra time to appreciate the beauty of our world — the green of the trees, the glimmer of sun on water, and yes, even the raucous cacophony of cicadas.

I am the hope that you will survive to become hope too.

And I am the hope that we will always remember those who didn’t.IMG_0348

Namaste, Pat, Dale, Maribeth, and everyone else who is no longer with us.
The light within me salutes the light within you, the light that lingers on in those you loved.

 

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Cancer Lesson #74: Happy to Be Here. Happy to Have Hair.

Cancer Lesson #74: Happy to be here. Happy to have Hair.

I find it hard to believe it’s been three and a half years since my last chemo. How could I have had surgery and treatment for cancer, and managed to emerge with a normal life once more?

It boggles my mind.

It’s a new kind of normal, of course. Though they’ve faded, I have scars to rival Frankenstein’s, and — like others who have gone through a bodily trauma — aches and pains I never had before.

For nearly a year, my chemo curls rowdily rioted around my face like the aftermath of a bad perm.

But I’m back to playing soccer, and last year I did a bike tour. I’ve also been known to attempt a cartwheel, usually in an ill-conceived fit of whimsy. The last one ended with me plopped on my bottom, but never mind.

Clearly neither my tumbling nor my soccer skills will ever win me a place on an Olympic team. And there are granddads (plenty of them) who zoom past me whenever I ride my bike.

The point is no one know if I’d ever be able to do any of these activities again, and I can.

That’s worth a cartwheel.

Having survived cancer, I know everything else is gravy. The icing on the cake. The cherry on the – well, you get the idea.

Being alive is a miracle, and I developed a mantra to remind me of that fact.

“Happy to be here. Happy to have hair.” I say it whenever I start to stress over something stupid. Sure, it’s not the most sophisticated phrasing, and maybe I sound a little silly.

I say it anyway because I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

I’m still here.

“Happy to be here. Happy to have hair.” I say it in memory of those who are not.

Take a moment to think of them. And take some time to enjoy the life’s extras too – the gravy, the icing, and the cherry on that sundae.

I do. Especially the sundaes.

Cancer Lesson #69: How to Celebrate Your Cancerversary

Cancer Lesson #69: How to Celebrate Your Cancerversary

Question: How should you celebrate your cancerversary?

Short answer: Any damned way you want to.

Four years ago today I drove home from the hospital trying to fit my emotions and thoughts around the new reality that I had breast cancer.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and I kept thinking I should be crying or screaming or raging against an unfair God.

But all I could think was, “I won’t be able to be captain of our soccer team this year. I’ll need to get Maggie or Carol to do it.”

Then I had to figure out how to tell my family. I ended up breaking the news to The Engineer over the phone because he couldn’t understand why he needed to come straight home.

We waited a few days to tell Darling Daughter. She’d just gotten her driver’s license the night before, and that’s such a milestone; I couldn’t bear to ruin it for her any sooner than necessary.

In retrospect, I see now that having cancer changed me, but not in a way I can easily explain. It’s a part of me, and always will be, perhaps not physically (please God) but in my attitude toward life.

The closest thing I can compare it to is parenthood. Everyone tells you what it’s like to have children, but it’s only after you have your own that you begin to realize what they meant.

I understand in a way I never did before that life is finite. We are only blessed with a certain number of days on this earth. I try to remember that, even when things don’t go the way I planned.

All I can do – all anyone can do – is the best I can with what I’ve got in my little corner of the world.

As Mahatma Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Another quote that speaks to me about this concept is Margaret Mead’s: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I am blessed to still be here, and for that I remain grateful.

And I am humbled to remember the others who fought this disease and suffered so greatly without that reward.

So, how did I celebrate my cancerversary this year? I worked, then went to the dentist and back to work. In between, I fit in several phone calls to two banks that managed to transfer $5000 instead of $50 between our accounts.

It’s been a good day.

Question: How should you celebrate your cancerversary?

Long Answer: Any damned way you want to.

Cancer Lesson #58: Cancer Reminds Us We’re Going to Die

Cancer Lesson #58: Cancer reminds us we’re going to die.

Let me say upfront, if having cancer made you a better person, I’m glad.  And if you can view the disease as a “blessing,” well you’re certainly more evolved than I’ll ever be.

I’m three years out now (and counting every moment with gratitude), and my conclusion about having had cancer is this: What cancer does is remind us — rather forcefully — that we’re going to die.

Perhaps for some, this has the effect of making them a better person.
For others, not so much.

I only know how this knowledge has affected me.
For one thing, I’m a lot less patient when people waste my time — not exactly a “better person” kind of attribute.
On the other hand, if I want to take time from what I “should” be doing to do something I want to do, well, guess which wins?
I’m more likely to try things I might not have in the past. I’m also more able to say, “No, I’m not going to try that because I don’t want to.”
Each day, I am more grateful my mom is still with us, sassy as ever at age eighty-four.
At the same time, I grow ever more concerned about my friends who are still in treatment, and yet so thankful to have them as part of my life.

I’m more grateful overall, better able to pull myself back from daily stress by reminding myself of my mantra, “Happy to be here. Happy to have hair.” (And the second part is negotiable.)

We’re all going to die.  And that eventuality is statistically more likely to come sooner for those of us who have had cancer or are in treatment for it.
Or not.
People die every day in completely unexpected ways.

The challenge is learning to live every day.
Cancer has taught me to try.

 

Cancer Lesson #47: We Rarely Get What We Deserve

Cancer Lesson: 47: We rarely get what we deserve.

People were overwhelmingly kind to me when I was in treatment. In addition to the cards – which I know numbered over a hundred – I received flowers, fuzzy blankets to keep warm during chemo, a lovely handmade wool wrap, more meals than I could count, books (both to read and to color – my friends are nothing if not creative), visits, several soft hand-knit caps for cool nights, plants, home-baked goods, candy and Caramel Frappuccinos.

I’ll admit I hinted pretty heavily to get the Caramel Frappuccinos, but mostly, I felt undeserving of my friends’ generosity and fretted about to repay such kindness.

Then, my friend Kathy – who’s smarter than me – said, “Don’t you know that’s what grace is, Kym?”

She was right. I didn’t ask for those things (other than the Caramel Frappuccinos <blush>). And I understand now that most people share an inherent compassion that makes them want to help others.

So, if you find yourself besieged with goodies, try not to feel guilty. Instead, accept the gifts with grace and gratitude  and reflect on how lucky we are to have such people in our lives.

Because no one “deserves” to get cancer either.

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

 — Anne Frank

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Cancer Lesson #??? — Be Thankful

This really should be Cancer Lesson #1, or perhaps just The Cancer Lesson.” It’s a simple one: Be thankful. For your health, every day you walk on this earth, every moment you get to spend with friends and family, everything. It’s a lesson easily learned but difficult to live, and I’ll admit I’m still working on the latter.

So, this Thanksgiving, I’ll raise my glass in a toast of gratitude for all of the above and for you, my readers. I hope you will do the same.

Pouring Red Wine Into Empty Wine Glass in Slow...

Pouring Red Wine Into Empty Wine Glass in Slow Motion 2 (Photo credit: Dave Dugdale)

What you put in that glass is up to you, but mine will probably look something like this.  😉